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AG Platkin, Division on Civil Rights announce expanded agreement with Zillow to address housing discrimination

NEW JERSEY – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced Tuesday that the Division and Zillow Group, Inc. (Zillow), an online real estate and rental marketplace company, have entered into an agreement to address and prevent housing discrimination in New Jersey against prospective tenants seeking to pay rent with federal, state or local rental assistance, and against prospective tenants with criminal histories.

The partnership incorporates and expands DCR’s and Zillow’s 2020 Statement of Collaboration, which focused on housing discrimination against recipients of federal, state, or local rental assistance. Under the expanded Statement of Collaboration, Zillow – which includes, Trulia, Hotpads, and StreetEasy – will partner with DCR to undertake similar work to combat violations of the Fair Chance in Housing Act (FCHA), a landmark New Jersey law that limits a landlord or housing provider’s ability to consider a rental applicant’s criminal history.

The expanded agreement, announced today in honor of National Fair Housing Month, includes important measures to combat violations of the FCHA. Among other things, Zillow and DCR will continue to collaborate on Zillow’s content-filtering terms so that Zillow can more comprehensively detect and remove advertisements that unlawfully discriminate on the basis of source of lawful income, and will expand this collaboration to address language in housing advertisements that may violate the FCHA. Zillow will also send out information to all of its New Jersey advertisers regarding their obligations under the FCHA and New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), and will collaborate on efforts to educate housing providers on the requirements of the FCHA and the LAD.

“When Governor Murphy signed the Fair Chance Housing Act in 2022, New Jersey enacted the first state law in the country to protect individuals with criminal records from being unfairly denied safe, affordable housing,” Platkin said. “We are committed to promoting and enforcing those protections through collaborations like the one we are announcing today that seek to eliminate discriminatory conduct on rental platforms.”

“The Fair Chance in Housing Act provides groundbreaking protections that give individuals with prior criminal histories a fair shot at accessing housing,” said Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “Our collaboration with Zillow is another critical step in our ongoing efforts to address and prevent housing discrimination, and to ensure that housing providers comply with their obligations under this landmark law.”

Under the expanded agreement, Zillow and DCR will expand their existing collaboration to update and improve the content-filtering terms Zillow uses to identify and remove discriminatory advertisements, extending that collaboration to encompass discrimination in violation of the FCHA. As the Statement of Collaboration explains, DCR has discovered a number of online advertisements that contain unlawful limitations, specifications, or statements based on criminal history. Those advertisements, which were posted by third parties, appeared across a wide range of online platforms and contained discriminatory statements such as “no prior criminal felony convictions,” “clear background check,” and “no criminal records.”

Under the agreement, DCR will alert Zillow to advertisements DCR discovers that appear to contain unlawful limitations or statements based on source of income and criminal history. Zillow will then remove the flagged advertisements that violate the law, update its content-filtering terms to ensure that future advertisements do not contain similar limitations, and assist with DCR’s investigations and enforcement actions.  Where possible, to help facilitate DCR’s ongoing enforcement efforts, Zillow will also alert DCR of language in advertisements that appear to contain unlawful limitations or statements that discriminate based on source of lawful income, criminal history, ethnicity, race, disability, or other protected characteristics.

As part of the expanded agreement, Zillow has also committed to strategically posting links to DCR fact sheets and materials on its web portals.  It will also—upon DCR’s request—send a wide range of DCR educational materials to its New Jersey advertisers on an annual basis, and update existing website pages to include FCHA materials.

Among the elements of the new agreement are the following:

  • Zillow has updated its Respectful Renter Pledge, its Fair Housing Guide, and its Good Neighbor Policy to include information about prohibitions against discrimination based on source of lawful income and criminal history.
  • DCR and Zillow will continue to explore, identify, and implement methods for educating housing advertisers of the requirements of the LAD, including the prohibition on refusing to accept a source of lawful income, and of the requirements of the FCHA. This will include methods for educating users seeking to post rental advertisements for New Jersey properties on Zillow’s platform.
  • Zillow and DCR will continue to collaborate on additional public outreach measures, such as leveraging promotional space to deliver graphics that inform Zillow users of their fair housing rights in New Jersey.
  • Zillow will create a reporting process for DCR to report potential violations of the LAD and FCHA to Zillow.
  • Whenever possible, DCR and Zillow will alert each other of discriminatory postings that bypass Zillow’s language filter.

The Statement of Collaboration is part of DCR’s ongoing efforts to address housing discrimination during National Fair Housing Month. This year marks the 55th anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act. In recognition of National Fair Housing Month, DCR is hosting nearly a dozen trainings and know-your-rights presentations across the State on the housing protections afforded by the LAD and the FCHA.

DCR has also redoubled its commitment to enforcing the FCHA.  Since the FCHA went into effect in January 2022, DCR has taken enforcement action in nearly 90 cases where housing providers were found to have violated the FCHA by asking criminal history-related questions on housing applications that are prohibited by the law, or by posting housing advertisements or maintaining housing policies that do not comply with the FCHA.

The FCHA, which is the first state law of its kind in the country, expands opportunities for people with criminal records to find safe, affordable housing. The law addresses an important driver of racial inequality in New Jersey, as eligibility rules limiting housing opportunities for people with criminal records have long disproportionately affected people of color, especially Black people.

The FCHA generally bars housing providers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on an initial application form or in an interview until after they have made a conditional offer of housing to the applicant. The law also bars housing providers from stating in any housing advertisements they post or publish, that they will not consider housing applicants with criminal records.

The LAD, meanwhile, prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, disability, and other protected characteristics. The LAD also prohibits discrimination by property owners, real-estate agents, and other housing providers based on a prospective tenant’s source of lawful income. Sources of lawful income include subsidies or vouchers provided by federal, state, or local rental-assistance programs, including Section 8 housing choice vouchers. Posting rental property advertisements using language that expresses, directly or indirectly, limitations on potential renters based on any of those protected categories is in violation of the LAD.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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